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Stan Kenton & His Orchestra

There have been few jazz musicians as consistently controversial as Stan Kenton. Dismissed by purists of various genres while loved by many others, Kenton ranks up there with Chet Baker and Sun Ra as jazz's top cult figure. He led a succession of highly original bands that often emphasized emotion, power, and advanced harmonies over swing, and this upset listeners who felt that all big bands should aim to sound like Count Basie. Kenton always had a different vision.

Kenton played in the 1930s in the dance bands of Vido Musso and Gus Arnheim, but he was born to be a leader. In 1941 he formed his first orchestra, which later was named after his theme song "Artistry in Rhythm." A decent Earl Hines-influenced pianist, Kenton was much more important in the early days as an arranger and inspiration for his loyal sidemen. Although there were no major names in his first band (bassist Howard Rumsey and trumpeter Chico Alvarez come the closest), Kenton spent the summer of 1941 playing regularly before a very appreciative audience at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa Beach, CA. Influenced by Jimmie Lunceford (who, like Kenton, enjoyed high-note trumpeters and thick-toned tenors), the Stan Kenton Orchestra struggled a bit after its initial success. Its Decca recordings were not big sellers and a stint as Bob Hope's backup radio band was an unhappy experience; Les Brown permanently took Kenton's place.

By late 1943 with a Capitol contract, a popular record in "Eager Beaver," and growing recognition, the Stan Kenton Orchestra was gradually catching on. Its soloists during the war years included Art Pepper, briefly Stan Getz, altoist Boots Mussulli, and singer Anita O'Day. By 1945 the band had evolved quite a bit. Pete Rugolo became the chief arranger (extending Kenton's ideas), Bob Cooper and Vido Musso offered very different tenor styles, and June Christy was Kenton's new singer; her popular hits (including "Tampico" and "Across the Alley From the Alamo") made it possible for Kenton to finance his more ambitious projects. Calling his music "progressive jazz," Kenton sought to lead a concert orchestra as opposed to a dance band at a time when most big bands were starting to break up. By 1947 Kai Winding was greatly influencing the sound of Kenton's trombonists, the trumpet section included such screamers as Buddy Childers, Ray Wetzel, and Al Porcino, Jack Costanzo's bongos were bringing Latin rhythms into Kenton's sound, and a riotous version of "The Peanut Vendor" contrasted with the somber "Elegy for Alto." Kenton had succeeded in forming a radical and very original band that gained its own audience.

In 1949 Kenton took a year off. In 1950 he put together his most advanced band, the 39-piece Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra that included 16 strings, a woodwind section, and two French horns. Its music ranged from the unique and very dense modern classical charts of Bob Graettinger to works that somehow swung despite the weight. Such major players as Maynard Ferguson (whose high-note acrobatics set new standards), Shorty Rogers, Milt Bernhart, John Graas, Art Pepper, Bud Shank, Bob Cooper, Laurindo Almeida, Shelly Manne, and June Christy were part of this remarkable project, but from a commercial standpoint, it was really impossible. Kenton managed two tours during 1950-1951 but soon reverted to his usual 19-piece lineup. Then quite unexpectedly, Kenton went through a swinging period. The charts of such arrangers as Shorty Rogers, Gerry Mulligan, Lennie Niehaus, Marty Paich, Johnny Richards, and particularly Bill Holman and Bill Russo began to dominate the repertoire. Such talented players (in addition to the ones already named) as Lee Konitz, Conte Candoli, Sal Salvador, Stan Levey, Frank Rosolino, Richie Kamuca, Zoot Sims, Sam Noto, Bill Perkins, Charlie Mariano, Mel Lewis, Pete Candoli, Lucky Thompson, Carl Fontana, Pepper Adams, and Jack Sheldon made strong contributions. The music was never predictable and could get quite bombastic, but it managed to swing while still keeping the Kenton sound.

Kenton's last successful experiment was his mellophonium band of 1960-1963. Despite the difficulties in keeping the four mellophoniums (which formed their own separate section) in tune, this particular Kenton orchestra had its exciting moments. However from 1963 on, the flavor of the Kenton big band began to change. Rather than using talented soloists, Kenton emphasized relatively inexpensive youth at the cost of originality. While the arrangements (including those of Hank Levy) continued to be quite challenging, after Gabe Baltazar's "graduation" in 1965, there were few new important Kenton alumni (other than Peter Erskine and Tim Hagans). For many of the young players, touring with Kenton would be the high point of their careers rather than just an important early step. Kenton Plays Wagner (1964) was an important project, but by then the bandleader's attention was on jazz education. By conducting a countless number of clinics and making his charts available to college and high-school stage bands, Kenton insured that there would be many bands that sounded like his, and the inverse result was that his own young orchestra sounded like a professional college band! Kenton continued leading and touring with his big band up until his death in 1979.

Kenton recorded for Capitol for 25 years (1943-1968) and in the 1970s formed his Creative World label to reissue most of his Capitol output and record his current band. In recent times Capitol has begun reissuing Kenton's legacy on CD and there have been two impressive Mosaic box sets. ~ Scott Yanow, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

Fortunate to have seen him live at Hershey Arena, Hershey Pa. in 1964. Unforgetable
Kenton style jazz fan ever since . Thank you Mr Kenton ..wherever you are.....Stil l playing up there I hope...
I was a very very lucky young man to have had the opportunity to play several of Kentons charts during the 60s (the mellophonium band years). As a highschool student I met Stan, Maynard and the incredible composer Johnny Richards. Mr Richards rehearsed our stage band personally after hearing tapes given to him by Kenton. He helicoptered into our Pennsylvania high school parking lot and made a personal appearance out of the blue . What a thrill.. such an experience. I have been a Kenton style ja
Awesome Orchestra Jazz Historical!! ! !
Have seen Stan at least 12 times. At an outdoor venue it started to rain at intermission . Most people left. Stan came back and said to the approx. 25 people still there, come up on the stage an be our singers!
I was standing next to Maynard. I could not hear for three days. What
memories!!! Stan was and is-THE MAN. Phil Lones
.
Does anyone remember Artistry in Rhythm? One of my favorites, and I wish Pandora would add it to their repertoire.
Kenton's orchestra will always be my favorite. I love the full sound, the vibrations from the brass section, the lyrical sax solos, and his own distinct keyboard work. I loved the intricate arrangements which used the entire ensemble. I heard him live three times in my life; each one unforgetable .
hojo514
Followed Kenton from Balboa days.. Went to all his Concerts at local venues and bought most of his records. Truly one of greatest bands ever
Can't still can't get enough of his music. Hank Ouellette ( Michigan )
SHE WOULD PLAY ONE AND WE WERE IN HEAVEN! LATER WE WERE TOLD THAT THE STORE WAS GOING OUT OF BUSINESS AND THAT EVERYTHING WAS HALF PRICE, WE LITERALY DUG UP $3 AND WE BOUIGHT 6, ALL STAN KENTON. IN A FEW DAYS WE FOUND OUT THAT ALL THE RCORDS WERE MARKED TEN CENTS APIECE. WE FOUND ANOTHER DOLLAR AND BOUGHT TEN MORE RECORDS, WE ENDED UP WITH SIXTEEN AND TEN WERE STAN KENTON. I CARRIED THOSE RECORDS AROUND FOR MORE HALF A CENTURY UNTIL THEY JUST WOULD NOT PLAY ANY MORE.
AS A YOUNG BOY IN A SMALL COAL MINEING TOWN THE ONLY WAY TO HEAR STAN KENTON WAS TO GO TO THE ONLY PLACE IN TOWN THAT SOLD RECORDS AND THAT WAS THE ALL PURPOSE HARDWARE AND PAINT STORE . THE RECORDS WERE STACKED ON A COUNTER NEXT TO THE CASH REGISTER AND YOU HAD TO BEG THE LADY BEHIND THE COUNTER TO PLAY WHAT YOU WANTED, THAT WAS ALLWAYS STAN KENTON. SHE KNEW MY YOUNGER BROTHER AND I DID NOT HAVE THE MONEY TO BUY ONE,AFTER ALL THE SINGLES WERE $1 AND THE ALBUMS WERE $5.ONCE IN A BLUE MOON S
psnorthport
I grew up listening to Stan the man Kenton and still love his sounds today. Great inovations that you don't hear today. Nor do you hear much of his music on the radio or for that matter any progressive band sounds. Just think of all those musicans playing together. It's still a WOW!!! Where did the jazz go? Music today is just so terrible.
flowerboutiq u e b o s t o n
i grew up listening to my parents music and they gave me there collection of albums stan kentons music is really quality music i am only 44 and enjoy this type of music very much the horns are not dead just the muscian
A couple of musicians in their 30s admitted today that they'd never heard of Kenton. Makes me feel old, but worse yet, I hate to think of the Kenton talent lost to the next generation.
I've beena Kenton fan since 1947 and loved it when he was at the Balboa Pavilion with June Christie and Cooper )who she later married.
I've loved the KEnton bands and orchestras since I first heard them in the 1950s as I finished high school and went on to the University of Florida, Gainesville, and got to enjoy my first Kenton performance live for Fall Frolics, 1957. You could feel the sound/harmon y in the field house when you sat in front of the band. In total I witnessed four performances during the following years to 1974, the latter with the Four Freshmen along!
I grew up on Kenton, first hearing "Kenton in HiFi" when I was about 10 or so. I fell in love with the sound. First heard the band live in 1962 and then many times after that, including the last band before Kenton's death. My jazz listening expanded to everybody from Jimmy Rainey to Sun Ra, but Kenton remains a favorite.
Dick Hutchins, Unknown band leader in the late 40s - 50s era says:
Kenton has always been at the top, as far as I'm concerned. The only one that might come close would be Doc Severinson.
My all-time favorite! Growing up in Punxsutawney , Pa a continent away from California, my sister and I promoted Kenton relentlessly all through the 40's 50's and 60's! I'm now near 80 and I'll never change!!
Wow! This song is amazing. The horn is my dream!
I am a very lucky person. I have been a Kenton fan since my high school days in the forties. I have seen him in person 13 times. Though I like many other bands and leaders, my alltime fav is Stan. Bob Curry
The best in his era.
artadele75
Artadele: One of the greatest bands of the 50's and 60's, a truly innovative leader and pianist with a flair for the way out (of that time) orchestratio n s also the some of the best side men to offer their ideas and tones
abunk316
During WW2 I was stationed at the Santa Ana Aviation Cadet Classificati o n Base.
I spent my weekends at Stan Kentons usual Saturday night gig. at the "RAWNDI" Dance place Stan and His Band held forth. Enjoyed his style of Music and it has stuck with me for over 50 years NOW.

BAB (AGE 86 AT PRESENT)
Joy is so subjective.. . . . t h e JOY the many Kenton Orch. gave to so many is eveident. I listen to his music today and feel the same inovations and colors that were created then. It is a shame that aficianadas compare big bands like Count Basie or Ellington or whomever were there favorites... . . e a c h was unique and stand on the joy beauty and power of their leaders. I am waiting for the pendulm to swing back with the hope that today's youth will recognize the creativity and commitment needed to make
jrb13762
Great .. the best band prior to the electronic instrument revolution. Kenton was a talented, innovative pianist and leader.

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